Do Women Have a Hidden Edge at the Poker Table?
Poker’s always been a man’s game. Just ask any guy. Or better yet, take a look at a few old casino photographs. Whenever you see a poker game, chances are you saw a bunch of guys playing. And that’s the way it was — for the most part, anyway. There were exceptions, to be sure, but those were few and far between.
That’s all changed lately and it’s probably going to change even more in the near future. Hey, poker’s arcane little world is still part of society at large, and as gender stereotypes continue to break down in the real world those changes will continue. After all, I’ve read that more women than men have entered the accounting and legal professions over the past years, and those were bastions that were once as traditionally male dominated as poker is.
It’s hard to point to any innate gender-dominant edge in either law or accounting. If trial law seems tailor-made for aggressive male posturing, then other areas of law, such as child welfare, family law, and contracts seem at least gender neutral. But I can see an edge or two that women may have over men when it comes to poker, although this hypothesis is difficult to validate and will be until more women are playing poker and long term trends can be observed. Nevertheless, I’ll gladly share my observations with you and explain why I believe there are some aspects of poker where women have an edge over guys, and why more and more women will be taking up the game in the future.
Television demystified poker. It’s no longer a secret male club. Turn on the TV any night of the week, and you’ll see poker played. Having benefited by a peek into what was formerly a nearly all-male preserve, women have decided that the mystique of the game was never all that much to begin with — it’s certainly something they can handle — and just like the guys who have been seduced by the game’s allure on TV, women are turning out at poker clubs, cardrooms, and casinos in greater number than ever before. And not to be undone by traditional boys’ night out home games, women’s poker nights are exploding and expanding at warp speed too, and in a way that probably makes the average Tupperware party proprietor or Avon maven green with envy.
The growth of online poker has also eased many women into the game. Even women who still might feel a little unsure about walking into a poker room for the first time now have the benefit of online poker’s anonymity. Pick a screen name or alias in an internet cardroom and no one knows much about you, who you are, your age, gender, or any other identifying characteristic. All they see is your onscreen persona, and anyone can use this anonymity to try their newly acquired chops online before bringing their game to a brick and mortar casino.
Another reason for poker’s rapid growth among women is the availability of role models to follow and emulate. Way back when Barbara Enright became the first (and only) woman to make it to the final table at the World Series of Poker’s premier event, the $10,000 no-limit hold’em tournament, it was rare to find women entering this event. Now women are entering poker’s big Kahuna in ever increasing numbers, and it’s only a matter of time before the World Champ is a gal. Wasn’t it just a few short years ago that people wondered whether the world’s best woman poker player was Barbara Enright, Jennifer Harman, Annie Duke, Kathy Liebert, or someone else altogether? You don’t hear that questions asked much any more, and nowadays, when people talk about the ability of these players, it’s usually in reference to their being among the best players in the world, gender notwithstanding.
What makes these women great poker players? For one thing, they don’t let their emotions get in the way of their game. Isn’t that funny? Most of the time it’s women who are chided about being overly emotional, while men are regaled for their logic, or admonished for an inability to express their feelings. But when was the last time you witnessed a women going on tilt in a poker tournament? I can’t recall this happening.
Oh, sure, I’ve played poker against women who have gone completely ballistic, but they were not among the best of the players. Yet every time I turn on the telly and a poker show comes up, I can guarantee myself that one of the guys — and some of the usual suspects are universally regarded as “world class players” — is going to treat the viewing audience to an on-camera meltdown.
Women seem to have an easier time maintaining their composure in big poker tournaments, and this is a big edge. After all, whenever someone at the table goes temporarily nuts and takes his frustrations out on his bankroll, anyone who is charge of his or her emotions when that’s happening, has a big advantage.
Women also seem more willing to work co-operatively. Because of that, they have a bit of an edge in learning the game. The Women’s Poker Club is an example of a terrific by-the-bootstraps organization where new players with talent and potential but not much experience, can find a nurturing spot for their game to expand, develop, mature, and grow. That’s not to say that guys don’t have poker discussion groups too. They do. And those who work in concert with fellow players always seem to grow more rapidly than those who choose to go it alone. But women seem to move a lot more easily in the direction of poker discussion and development groups. The result seems to be a more rapid acceleration up the learning curve.
There’s a Japanese management philosophy called kai-zen, and it’s based on the precept that to succeed, it’s not enough just to grow and learn; people and organizations must grow and learn at a more rapid rate than their competition. This ensures that one will catch and eventually overtake competitors who do not practice kai-zen.
When you examine the changing face of poker today, it’s clear that women seem to be improving at a much more rapid rate than the guys, and perhaps it’s this willingness to share and work together that underpins this phenomenon. Time will tell.
Lou’s latest books are Mastering Omaha/8 Poker and Secrets the Pros Won’t Tell You About Winning Hold’em Poker. Visit him at www.loukrieger.com
This article was originally published in Woman Poker Player print publication.